One billion people worldwide suffer from vitamin D deficiency. We can only absorb enough of an important vitamin with enough sun exposure or the right amount of medication.
Hair loss, depression, fatigue, skin conditions, cancer – the list of health problems associated with vitamin D is long. According to research, vitamin D plays a role in many processes in the body. It affects bones, muscles, the immune system, blood vessels, and more. As a result, vitamin D has become a major topic not only among scientists and doctors in recent years, but also in magazines, television programs and social media.
Despite the popularity of vitamin D, few people get enough of it. An estimated one billion people worldwide are not optimally supplied with vitamin from the sun – in Switzerland, according to a report by the Federal Office of Health, 70 percent of the population.
Find out in this article what you can do with tests, sunbathing, and medications that are optimally supplied with vitamin D, and what your body does with the sunshine vitamin. We explain what causes vitamin D deficiency or overdose and what diseases are associated with vitamin D deficiency.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, but experts also call it a hormone because it acts like a hormone and we don’t get it mostly from food, as is the case with vitamins. Rather, our body produces vitamin D itself, but this requires ultraviolet radiation from the sun. The two most important forms of vitamin D are vitamin D₂ (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D₃ (cholecalciferol).
What functions does vitamin D perform in the body?
The sun vitamin is involved in many processes in the body, especially because of its dual role as a vitamin and a hormone. His most important areas of responsibility include bone metabolism and the development and functioning of our muscles. Vitamin D also strengthens the immune system and protects blood vessels.
Other vitamin D tasks include:
- Controls the absorption of calcium and phosphate in the small intestine.
- It regulates over 200 genes.
- It has a positive effect on the work of the heart muscle.
- It has an antihypertensive effect.
- Helps create skeletons in children.
Vitamin D deficiency
Currently, many people do not get enough vitamin D, especially in northern latitudes. According to a report from the Swiss Federal Office of Health, only 30 percent of the population reaches the recommended 30 nanograms per milliliter of blood. 50 percent is even below the recommended range for long term bone health.
Why are so many people getting too little vitamin D?
Its deficiency has to do with how we make vitamin D and how we live today. It is not without reason that vitamin D is called the solar vitamin. Our body needs sunlight to produce it, more specifically UVB rays.
Only under the influence of radiation does vitamin D3 develop on the skin due to the precursor of vitamins. Vitamin D3, produced in the skin, then migrates through the blood to the kidneys and liver. There it becomes the active form of vitamin D, which can affect the body anywhere.
The problem with this: In Germany, the sun is so weak during the winter months that vitamin D can hardly be produced. In the summer we spend a lot of time indoors and do not fill up enough vitamin D to fill stores for the winter.
How do we get vitamin D from food?
The small intestine absorbs up to 80 percent of the fat-soluble vitamin D3 from food. However, only a small amount of vitamin D is ingested, so we only cover 10-20 percent of the daily value with our diet. One reason for this is that several foods contain vitamin D and only in small amounts. Vitamin D3, which is important for the body, is found almost exclusively in animal products, especially in:
- Fatty fish such as herring and humpback
- Margarine and butter
- milk and egg yolk
Mushrooms and avocados also contain vitamin D – but in a form that the body has difficulty absorbing. In general, you would need to consume quite a lot of the appropriate food in order to reach the minimum recommended daily intake. For the 800 International Units (IE) recommended by the German Food Society, that is, 20 micrograms, you would need, for example, 2,400 grams of mushrooms, four kilograms of beef liver, four kilograms of butter or 80 eggs.
In a nutshell: food alone is not enough to meet your daily vitamin D needs. We have to produce most of it ourselves, which is impossible without sunlight.
How much vitamin D do I need?
Maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D is important – it is difficult to determine a reliable daily dose because we also take different amounts of vitamin D at different times of the year. The best way to measure is your blood supply of vitamin D. You can determine the level in the blood of 25- (OH) -D, for example, it is indicated in nanograms per milliliter.
- Most publications assume that you have enough nanograms per milliliter of blood.
- Values below 11 nanograms per milliliter are considered critical and may contribute to conditions such as softening of the bones.
- Some researchers argue that 60 nanograms per milliliter or more makes sense to take full advantage of the health benefits of the sun vitamin.
How to get enough vitamin D?
How much sun we need to make enough vitamin D depends on many factors: especially our skin type, the latitude in which we live, the time of day and the season. Experts say that during the summer, it is usually sufficient to expose your face, hands and arms to direct sunlight three times a week for five to 25 minutes.
Example: In order to produce 400 IU of vitamin D, a person with medium fair skin (the type with slow tanning and rare sunburn) must pass the 42nd parallel (for example, in southern France) from April to October Stay in the sun for three to eight minutes during lunch with a quarter of loose skin (eg hands, face, décolleté)
Many people cannot absorb enough sun in the summer, and even less can be filled up for the winter. In winter, the sun rarely shines in northern latitudes, and its light contains too little ultraviolet radiation. Adequate vitamin D production is hardly possible.
Therefore, researchers and specialist societies are debating how much vitamin D we should consume with nutritional supplements if adequate supply is not possible due to insufficient sun exposure.
Warning: Don’t overdo it with sunbathing. A few minutes without UV protection makes sense to supply vitamin D – however, too much direct sunlight leads to sunburn and increases the risk of skin cancer.
Are Vitamin D Supplements Helpful?
The German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommends 20 micrograms per day in low sunlight, usually between October and February, which equates to 800 international units (IU).
Some studies show that the DGE is underestimated. A report from the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism emphasizes that adults between the ages of 19 and 50 require at least 600 IU of vitamin D per day to maintain bone health and muscle function. However, in order to consistently get enough vitamin D in the blood, it is recommended to supplement with 1500-2000 IU per day. If there is already a deficiency, the researchers say, adults can adjust their vitamin D intake up to 10,000 IU per day for a short, fixed period of time.
Vitamin D and Vitamin K
It is believed that vitamin K has the same protective effect as vitamin D. It is intended primarily for the prevention and treatment of diseases of the bones and blood vessels. Vitamin K1 is naturally found in green vegetables, for example, vitamin K2 is produced by intestinal bacteria. Exactly how much vitamin K we need is not yet researched.
You can read over and over again that when taking vitamin D, there is a lack of vitamin K, because both vitamins are involved in bone formation and must influence each other. However, this theory has not been scientifically proven. Currently, medical experts recommend taking vitamin D and vitamin K together as concomitant therapy for the treatment of osteoporosis and prevention of bone fractures in the elderly.
Warning. People who are taking blood-thinning medications should definitely see their doctor before avoiding vitamin K. Vitamin K can cause blood clots when combined with certain medications.
Vitamin D deficiency
An estimated one billion people worldwide suffer from vitamin D deficiency. Research has linked vitamin D deficiency to chronic conditions such as osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer, depression, cardiovascular disease, and immune dysfunction.
What are the causes of vitamin D deficiency?
We get too little vitamin D mainly because there is too little in the sun. While our ancestors were outdoors for most of human history, we spend most of our time indoors. In addition, we cover our bodies with clothing and protect ourselves with sunscreen. All this means that less UV rays get on the skin – and our body needs it to produce vitamin D.
Good to know: Using a sunscreen with SPF 30 reduces vitamin D synthesis in the skin by more than 95 percent.
There are several other factors that can affect the production of vitamin D in our body:
- Diseases that affect the digestion and absorption of fat, such as celiac disease, lack of bile acid, or pancreatic insufficiency.
- Certain medications such as antihypertensives, antiestrogens, cytostatics, antiepileptic and phytopharmaceuticals
Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms
Vitamin D deficiency is rarely an overt symptom. Symptoms are often nonspecific and insidious, including fatigue, muscle weakness, musculoskeletal pain, and headache. As a result, many people do not notice a deficiency until illness develops. A common consequence of long-term vitamin D deficiency is, for example, osteomalacia (softening of the bones).
According to research, those with severe vitamin D deficiency are at increased risk for:
- Osteomalacia and osteoporosis
- Rickets in children
- Pain and bone weakness (osteoarthritis)
- For fractures (fractures) over 65 years old
In addition, recent research findings link vitamin D deficiency with a number of diseases. Disease is common with deficiency, and researchers are still exploring the exact connections:
- High blood pressure and heart disease
- Diabetes mellitus
- Serious infections such as tuberculosis, chronic kidney disease
- Hair loss
Who suffers from vitamin D deficiency?
Typically, vitamin D deficiency occurs in all age groups and social groups, as well as in such different regions. like Europe, South America and the Middle East. However, there are certain risk groups that are particularly at risk. If you belong to one of these groups, it is recommended that you check your vitamin D levels regularly and take supplements as needed.
Risk groups include:
- People who mostly stay in enclosed spaces and hardly or not at all outdoors or who cover their bodies outdoors
- Pregnant women because they have a higher need
- People with dark skin types because they can produce less vitamin D than people with fair skin with the same ultraviolet radiation
- The elderly, as their vitamin D production decreases significantly in old age, and they often spend less time outdoors for mobility reasons
- Infants, as the vitamin D content in breast milk is low and babies should never be exposed to direct sunlight
Vitamin D deficiency in old age
In the 60+ age group, vitamin D deficiency is especially common. This is not because older people are less likely to go out in the sun – their bodies produce four times less of their own vitamin D in their skin than younger people. If you are over 60 years old, it is recommended that you regularly check your vitamin D levels and compensate for the deficiency with supplements if necessary.
This makes sense precisely because the vitamin can help with problems that may arise, especially in old age. Research confirms, among others, the following positive effects.
- About preventing bone fracture
- For Cardiovascular Health
- About the risk of cancer such as colon cancer
- About a sense of balance
- About muscle strength in old age
Vitamin D Test
Many factors play a role in the supply of vitamin D. Therefore, without a test, it is difficult to tell how best to optimize your treatment. To find out if you should supplement with vitamin D and how it costs, it is worth doing a vitamin D test, especially if you are at risk.
The most common measurements are blood tests, which, among other things, can be done by a doctor or therapist. The most significant measurement is the 25- (OH) -D concentration. This form of vitamin D storage allows you to tell how well you have received your sun vitamin over the past three to four months. Other measurements, such as vitamin D3, are more like snapshots, which are subject to large fluctuations.
With a self-test like the Vitamin D Test, you can also self-test your values from home. To do this, take a blood sample with a small prick in your finger and send it to a specialized laboratory. The laboratory analyzes the level of 25- (OH) -D in the blood serum. Then in the results report, you will find out where your value is and how to get it green with D3 vitamin supplements and leave it there.
Can I Overdose on Vitamin D?
Vitamin D supplements should not be taken without prior blood testing. Unlike other vitamins, vitamin D cannot be excreted in the urine. If you are already well taken care of and have been taking high-dose supplements for an extended period of time, overdose may occur. This can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, cardiac arrhythmias and impaired consciousness, and in the long term can lead to weight loss, kidney stones and organ damage.
Vitamin D and Disease
In recent years, scientists have carefully studied how vitamin D levels affect health. We present a series of studies that show the link between vitamin D and various diseases and health problems.
Vitamin D – depression and psyche
Research shows that vitamin D deficiency can affect mental health. Among other things, depression, stress, mood swings and anxiety can get worse if you have a deficiency.
Several studies have already looked at the link between low vitamin D levels and depression, especially winter depression. People with depression had significantly lower vitamin D levels than healthy people. Some research suggests that vitamin D supplementation can improve symptoms of depression in people with vitamin D deficiency, but the research situation does not yet allow for specific recommendations.
Due to its hormone-like effects, vitamin D may also support brain function. Thus, it helps our brain make decisions, process information and store it correctly. People with vitamin D deficiency did not perform well on tasks that required concentration and attention.
Vitamin D and sleep quality
In 2017, Iranian scientists studied the effects of vitamin D on sleep quality. 89 participants with sleep disorders, ages 20 to 50, each received a vitamin D supplement or placebo. Result: Participants who received vitamin D had significantly better sleep quality, longer sleep duration, and shorter sleep time compared to the group without vitamin D supplementation. In another study, people with lower vitamin D levels had poorer sleep quality. p>
Good to know: According to a study by health insurance company DAK, almost half of the workforce (43 percent) regularly gets tired at work. About a third (31%) said they feel empty. Compared to 2010, almost twice as many people will use sleeping pills.
Vitamin D and hair loss
It has long been known that vitamins and minerals affect hair growth. For example, iron, biotin and zinc are important for healthy hair roots. Test-tube studies show that vitamin D may also be involved in active hair growth. Therefore, vitamin D promotes the production of receptors in the hair roots that stimulate growth. There are currently no significant clinical studies supporting this theory.
Vitamin D and migraines
Migraine is a severe headache that keeps coming back. Experts believe that the development of migraine attacks is associated with inflammation of the nerves and blood vessels. Researchers are currently investigating whether vitamin D supplements can inhibit inflammatory factors that are involved in migraine headaches. Other studies have confirmed that vitamin D may have anti-inflammatory effects.
There is still relatively little research in this area at this time and research results are conflicting. Some have shown a link between vitamin D and migraines. In one study, the frequency of headache attacks could be reduced by taking vitamin D. In other studies, vitamin D did not affect migraines.
Vitamin D and Skin Diseases
Vitamin D also plays a role in the skin. The vitamin appears to promote wound healing and the proper development of the protective skin barrier. Therefore, vitamin D deficiency is likely to contribute to the development of skin conditions such as neurodermatitis (atopic eczema), psoriasis (psoriasis), and white spot disease (vitiligo).
Research shows promising results for vitamin D supplementation and neurodermatitis. Patients with atopic dermatitis are highly susceptible to bacterial skin infections – in one study, patients with low vitamin D levels were particularly prone to such infections. Researchers are also currently investigating how vitamin D supplementation may positively affect the course of psoriasis (psoriasis) and vitiligo (white spot diseases).
Vitamin D and cardiovascular disease
Vitamin D can, according to scientists, strengthen the heart muscles. Vitamin D also performs important tasks in the metabolism of calcium and phosphate. The sun vitamin ensures that calcium and phosphate are stored in the bones. In the case of vitamin D deficiency, in particular, calcium is not stored properly and is deposited in the blood vessels, which can lead to calcification.
A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology shows that vitamin D deficiency can increase mortality from cardiovascular disease. Vitamin D supplementation reduced risk in the study. The study authors suggest that vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for blood vessel disease, heart muscle problems, and high blood pressure.
These results were confirmed in another study involving more than 40,000 patients. Subjects with vitamin D levels less than 15 nanograms per milliliter suffered more from hypertension, high blood lipids, heart defects, and strokes than those with vitamin D levels of 30 ng per milliliter.
Vitamin D and Cancer
Vitamin D is considered a beacon of hope for many when it comes to cancer prevention. So far, however, research results have been mixed. Some studies have found correlations, for example, between vitamin D levels and the risk of colon cancer.
Ongoing large-scale meta-studies have again found no effect of vitamin D intake on tumor development. According to many scientists, further research is needed to make clear statements here. Research is currently underway on this topic, and in some cases, the effect of high doses of vitamin D supplementation on cancer is also being investigated.
From science: lack of vitamin D increases the risk of death
In the ESTHER study of nearly 9,600 men and women in Germany, vitamin D deficiency was associated with higher mortality rates. Participants with low or very low vitamin D levels had a 1.2 times higher risk of death than participants with adequate vitamin D stores. This effect was even more pronounced in women.
Vitamin D – at a glance
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and a hormone at the same time. It is involved in many processes in the body, including bone metabolism, muscle function, the immune system, and blood vessel protection.
Where do people get their vitamin D?
Our body produces 80 to 90 percent of vitamin D on its own, but it needs ultraviolet radiation from sunlight. To maintain our vitamin D levels, we need to expose our face, hands, and arms to the sun for 10 to 20 minutes, three times a week in the summer. The remaining 10-20 percent comes from foods such as oily fish, eggs, dairy products, and mushrooms.
Who suffers from vitamin D deficiency?
Nearly one billion people worldwide are undersupplied with vitamin D. Risk groups include the elderly, pregnant women, people with darker skin types, and people who find it difficult to spend time outdoors or cover most of their bodies outdoors .
What are the consequences of vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency can have negative effects on bone health and contribute to osteomalacia and osteoporosis. Other conditions associated with deficiency include depression, cardiovascular disease, hair loss, skin conditions, and migraines.
How can I check my vitamin D level?
You can use a blood test to determine the concentration of 25- (OH) -D in your blood. This is the most important parameter for your vitamin D supply. It is also possible as a self-test at home. Most scientific sources recommend a value of at least 30 nanograms per milliliter of blood.
What Can I Do With Vitamin D Deficiency?
If you are lacking in vitamin D, it is difficult for you to struggle with nutrition and sunbathing, especially in the fall and winter. Supplements work better. A daily dose of 1,000 to 2,000 international units (IU) is recommended to maintain levels. Higher doses may make sense to correct deficiencies.